Finally, a story about a circus that is cool. There aren't creepy clowns or abused animals in this circus. All of the food sold at this circus is out of this world and probably doesn't give anyone indigestion. And while there is no shortage of bizarre entertainment, the freaks in this circus have talents most other circus performers don't...and that's the secret of the Night Circus.
Morgenstern's debut novel takes place in England in the 1800's. We meet two men...The first is Prospero the Enchanter, who has natural magical abilities that he disguises as illusions for audiences. The second is the mysterious Mr. A. H. who agrees to a challenge with Prospero. They will each raise a protege to compete in a magical competition of sorts. Prospero's protege has natural ability while Mr. A. H.'s will be taught. Unbeknownst to the proteges, they will compete against each other in this strange competition. So begins the Night Circus.
Imagine you wake up one day and see black and white circus tents set up that weren't there the day before. No one heard the trains arrive in town, no one noticed the tents being set up, but there it is. And even stranger, the circus is only open from dusk to dawn. Instead of a main tent, there are many tents and exhibitions...too many to explore in one evening. There are performers like Celia the illusionist, Tsukiko, the contortionist, and Isobelle, the fortune teller. There are experiences like the ice garden, the labryinth, or the wishing tree. And each thing you see and experience seems geniune. You don't know how the illusionist made a person in the audience disappear, or how the contortionist fit in that glass box, but you are enchanted and find yourself obsessed with the circus.
Besides the competition between Propero and Mr. A. H.'s students, the Night Circus involves a host of other characters. Morgenstern introduces us to many of them, and they are as interesting and integral to the story as the others. We learn that although the Night Circus is a magical place, it isn't immune to human weakness. Can the circus be sustained? Can its secrets be kept? And how will the strange competition that began it all end?
This book left me satisfied. Morgenstern is a very visual writer. She takes the time to describe everything in delicious detail and as I read, I kept seeing everything as if it were a movie - which is my hope (apparently the film rights have been sold to Summit Entertainment so maybe her visions will come to fruition). The book has a victorian, romantic, and yes, magical feel. While I'm not sure it's an automatic pick for my year's top five...it's definitely a candidate.